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Having All the Answers

Average Reading Time: 2 mins 40 secs

Can you recall the very first piece of leadership advice you ever received?

I can, as if it were yesterday.

It was on a damp morning in March just a month before my 15th birthday. I’d walked the regular one-mile route to school along the narrow footpaths and muddy grass verges.

On this particular day though my trousers and shirt were immaculately ironed, my blazer had been de-fluffed with sticky tape and I was wearing trainers so as not to get my perfectly polished shoes muddy.

All because today was the day I was being interviewed by a Major from the Army Officer Recruiting Team. As well as interviewing me, his job was to brief and prepare me for the two-day officer selection weekend I was to attend in Westbury in a few weeks’ time.

Quite how the Army were able to spot leadership potential in 15-year-old boys and girls still amazes me, but that’s the topic of another post, perhaps.

During the briefing, the Major explained to me that I would be completing a series of leader-lead and leaderless tasks over the two days, in which our every movement and word would be assessed.

He explained how, at some stage, I would be the designated leader for a particular task. I would receive my briefing and then have five minutes of planning time before having to brief my team and lead them to complete the task.

It was at this point he shared some advice with me. And to this day, that advice remains one of the most powerful lessons I’ve ever learned. Here’s what he said:

Ben, always remember that just because you are the leader for that particular task, it doesn’t mean you have to come up with all the answers.

If, after you’ve been given your briefing, you’re unsure of how to tackle the task, you should brief your team and ask for their ideas. From here, you can select or develop a plan and then lead the team to execute it.

That’s what it means to be a leader.

Leaders believing they need to have all of the answers is one of the biggest things that prevents leaders, teams and entire organisations from unlocking their true potential.

But it can be a hard lesson to learn, or a hard belief to let go of.

In the early part of our careers we are rewarded and promoted based upon what we know, the ideas we generate and what we deliver ourselves. But as we progress into more senior leadership roles, especially when we’re responsible for leading other leaders, what was once a strength starts to work against us.

But don’t just take this from me.

One of the most common things I’ve heard from the MDs and CEOs I’ve been interviewing for season one of my podcast is that leadership impact grew significantly when they let go of trying to be the one that had all the answers.

Many leaders have a false and limiting belief that asking for help or saying you’re not sure of the best course of action, is a sign of weakness. The reality is that it demonstrates real strength of character and shows those you lead that you truly value their input.


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